Wine Talk Tuesday: Fifty Wine-ifty United States

[Sing with me now!]

Fifty, wine-ifty United States

From thirteen American colonies!

Shout ’em! Scout ’em!

Tell all about ’em!

One by one,

….Til you’ve tried a wine, across every state line….

That’s right, fellow Winos!  It’s the fun fact of Wine Talk Tuesday this week: Every state in our great nation makes wine!

I know what you’re thinking… “Really? [in your mind, you pull up your mental map of the U.S. and start looking at all the states… Alaska?? Arizona?? Michigan??] ….No…. that just can’t be true!”  But it is!

Now you can’t expect to run down to your local wine shop, or even to Total Wine and be able to find a wine from every state.  But if you decided to trek across the country and find local wineries selling their grape concoctions, you most certainly could do it!

In fact, Mr. Joel Stein wrote an article in Time Magazine in 2008 called, “Fifty States of Wine“.  In the article he writes of his wine sampling mission across the U.S., which would not be considered complete until he had tried a wine from each and every state.  His short article is amusing, so I recommend the read, but I thought I’d share some of his general observations and lessons while tasting wine from every U.S. state:

“Wines made at golf courses are not good.”

“I also learned that you can make and apparently sell some truly disgusting wine: six of the bottles I tried with a dozen friends were unanimously deemed “undrinkable.”

“After a lengthy tasting session where we tried 20 wines, my drunken friends encouraged me to drink from the spit bucket. I took a whiff and instantly realized it couldn’t taste as bad as the red from Cape Cod, which was the worst beverage of any kind I’d ever tasted–and I had to swallow barium for an upper-GI test. As I took a swig and swirled it around to gross out my friends, I thought it tasted like America. It was sweet, funky, simple, aggressive and not as bad as you’d been led to believe.”

Click here to read Stein’s article in Time Magazine. Below is a photo from the article showing one wine from each state.  Fun!

Don’t you want to taste a wine from every state!?! This Wino certainly does!!

Source: Time Magazine

An additional note… relevant to the song that is now or soon will be, in your head for days. If you were not lucky enough to grow up singing about the Fifty Nifty United States, then you can check out this delightful video for the tune. (And I guarantee that all of those with whom I grew up STILL know the all 50 states in alphabetical order because of this patriotic delight.)  I randomly picked this video from the many options on YouTube, and was happy to hear the kids shout out that Arizona is the best!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQDiJUMHB_I

Divine Wine Sunday: La Crema

A few years back during a lovely dinner party, someone pulled out a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay.  And I remember it distinctly – mostly because white wines do not usually make a memorable impression on me.  Sure, I like white wines and drink them regularly.  But for whatever reason, reds typically leave me wanting more than white wines do.  However, I remember so clearly sitting around the dinner table with many good friends, and taking a sip of this Chardonnay and thinking, “wow – this is lovely.”  Since then, I have enjoyed La Crema on multiple Chardonnay occasions… but it’s time to Wine Know a little more about it….

Divine Wine of the Week: La Crema Chardonnay, La Crema Winery, Sonoma Coast, CA

La Crema Chardonnay

Price Range: $15-20 in a wine store (it is available at most grocery stores, World Market, and even Costco), $22 from the winery

Wino Assessment…

What I like the most about La Crema Chardonnay is while it has some soft fruit or flowery flavors, its buttery and smooth finish is what makes it interesting.  I think it would go well salmon or any fish, but also with a steak.  I would not necessarily just sip this one without food – it seems like it would be best with a little something to bring out its flavor.

The Grape…

Chardonnay grapes are originally from the Burgundy region of France and is now one of the most widely planted white wine grapes in the world – it seems it is essentially planted everywhere that grapes are grown.  It makes up approximately 40% of the white grape vines planted in California and is the second most widely planted white grape in France. Chardonnay grapes are often used in making Champagne – often combined with Pinot Noir grapes.  In the Chablis region of France, Chardonnay grapes are the only grapes permitted in making white wines within the European Union “wine laws” (I put that in quotes because I believe there is a more proper name for said laws).  So basically, if you say, “I’ll take a glass of Chablis!”,  you’re really saying, “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay from Chablis in France!”

The grape is generally easy to grow and is highly resistant to vine diseases.  It is not especially flavorful in and of itself, which means that a  winemaker has a lot of control in a wine’s taste via the winemaking process (see next section).  And in general, as a wine, Chardonnay is extremely popular, making it a relatively easy sell for winemakers.  “A typical Chardonnay winemaker is more chemist than vitner.”  (The Wine Avenger) That might be a harsh assessment, but when you read below, you may feel the same!

The Wine…

Two things primarily affect the flavor of Chardonnay grapes when turning them into wine.

(1) Malolactic Fermentation (yes – there will eventually be a wine word guide on Wino to Wine Know – this Wino can’t keep up!). According to my good friend, Wikipedia, “Malolactic fermentation (or sometimes malolactic conversion or MLF) is a process in winemaking where tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid.”  So, now that we know that, we know that the wines that go through that fermentation process have a more buttery taste, and those that do not go through the fermentation process have a crisper appley taste.  My guess is that the La Crema Chardonnay does indeed have some MLF happening (look at me already abbreviating my new favorite winemaking verbiage!).

(2) Barrel Choice:  There are generally three types of barrels used in wine making – stainless steel, used oak, or new oak. (The Wine Avenger).  Chardonnay is typically made in oak, and the flavor of the wine is highly dependent on how much that oak barrel was charred.  With a highly charred barrel, the wine will be rather “toasty”.  Other flavors tasted when drinking a glass of Chardonnay that come from the oak of the barrel include caramel, cream, smoke, spice, coconut, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. (“New World Chardonnay”, The Wine Spectator)

So what we’ve learned so far is that Chardonnay grapes are grown all over the world, and the taste of a Chardonnay wine is really more dependent on both the maloactic fermentation process and its barrel rather than the grape itself.  I find this very interesting and feel that if I ever venture to make my own little barrel of wine, that perhaps I should start with Chardonnay!

What does La Crema Winery say about its Chardonnay?  “The 2009 vintage of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay opens with an intriguing interplay of lively citrus and subtle toasted oak, laced with just a kiss of butterscotch. The palate is round and nutty, with flavors of yellow apple and orange adding lushness, while well-balanced acidity creates a lovely vibrancy. Hints of vanilla and caramel add richness and texture to a long, fresh finish.”  (La Cream Winery)

Woot!  I feel like my Wino assessment was pretty close to the winemaker’s assessment! (Again, I write the Wino Assessment prior to my Wino research).  Of course, the winemaker has a much better and expansive selection of words, but I think “buttery” is close to “butterscotch” when speaking about wine flavors, and “soft fruit” is similar enough to “flavors of yellow apple and orange adding lushness.”.  Am I stretching too much??

Regions…

As previously stated, Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted white wine grapes in the world.  In the North America, it immensely popular in California, but is also grown in New York, Washington State, and Oregon.  Canada also grows Chardonnay (Canadian wine?? Hmm… I smell a future blog post.)  In Europe it is most popular in France.  And in other regions of the world it can be found in Australia, New Zealand, and South America.  Basically, if you’re seeking out some Chardonnay vines, just go to any wine country region of the world and you’re likely to find it.

So La Crema, in this Wino’s book, is indeed a Divine Wine! Give it a try and let me know what you think!

[Source for all this fine Wine Knowing in this post unless otherwise stated: The Oxford Companion to Wine]

Thoroughly Wino Thursday: Grafting

Grafting. Perhaps a practice that is familiar to my farmer friends, of which I think I have zero.  But a concept unfamiliar to kids who grew up with asphalt and parking lots all around them, like me.  (Ok, there was some dirt and a few cacti as well.)

While visiting a vineyard in Paso Robles recently, I was chatting with the vineyard owner.  He had decided a few years back to switch one particular area of vines from Viogner grapes to Shiraz grapes, and apparently the Shiraz vines were now flourishing.  We were actually touring the vineyard and he pointed out that you could see the tape on the trunk of the vine (I’m not even sure if you call a vine’s base the “trunk” like a tree, but I’m gonna go with it for now) where the Shiraz vine was grafted into the Viogner vine.  Basically, the Viogner trunk was the part growing out of the ground – the Viogner vine trunk was cut in a special way, they were smooshed together, held with a piece of tape, and voila! A year or so later, there Shiraz grapes were growing.  Yes.  With the base of its own plant being taped to the base of another plant.

Alright.  I’ll pause for all of you asphalt kids to pick up your jaw.  Because that’s where my jaw was when Mr. Vineyard Owner Man told me this.

Apparently, this practice of grafting is common.  But it still boggles my mind.  According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, grafting is defined as,

…”the connection of two pieces of living plant tissue so that they unite and grow as one plant…”

I don’t care if this is common.  It’s still cool.  And apparently nothing new.  It was first referred to in the 2nd century BC, and has been an important part of wine making since the 19th century.  (Why am I just now learning about this!?!)  Apparently, during this time (19th century) Europeans carried back some rootstock (the base vine, or that which forms the roots of the overall plant) from North America.  The North American rootstock was resistant to a phylloxera (a teeny tine vine pest), but the European vines were not.  This phylloxera spread and attacked the European vines wiping out a great deal of vines across the continent. Because of this, the Europeans started grafting their vines into the North American rootstock so that their vines would be resistant to phylloxera.  Choosing the rootstock is still today a very complex process, and one that should be done carefully to avoid plants susceptible to this vine critters!

Anyway, how does it work?? Basically, one cuts the trunks of the two vines being grafted together like a comb or comb teeth (to put it simply), and then threads those pieces together.  (The rootstock and the scion, which is the plant that you are grafting into the rootstock.)  The plant tissue grows and both vines support one another.  Typically, upon planting a vine, it can take several years before that plant bears fruit.  But when you want, say a Shiraz vine where you have a Viogner vine, you just graft those babies together and within about a year or so, you have a plant that bears (new) fruit.

VIne Grafting Diagram (Source: http://www.grandcruclasses.com)

While I’m amazed that this actually works, I’m also surprised that whatever vine one grafts on top of the other isn’t impacted by the characteristics of the base trunk.  (Why doesn’t the Shiraz grape have a tinge of Viogner to it?)  This is a point where I’ll just recognize that I am neither a Wine Know nor am I skilled in the study of horticulture and will just accept that it works for scientific reasons that I don’t currently quite grasp.

There are generally two types of grafting: (1) field grafting (done by hand and in the field) and (2) bench grafting (accomplished indoors like in a nursery).  What Mr. Vineyard Owner Man showed me was field grafting.

Field Grafting (Source: University of Nebraska - Lincoln)

Vine Grafting (Source: http://www.anindor.com/vineyard.htm)

Why would a grape grower want to do this?  Well, when field grafting, it is simply to change up the vine varietal…. and to do it quickly.  To replant vines all together is far more cumbersome and will take much more time in the long run.  In addition, different types of vines are impacted by different amounts of sun, lime levels, type of soil, moisture of soil and air, temperature, etc. So the decision to change the vine varietal may be based on the (lack of) success of that vine’s growth in a given location.

There is a very complicated science to how and when grafting should happen.  But the fact that it happens at all – and that I know about it – makes me feel like I Wine Know a little more!

[Source (unless otherwise stated): The Oxford Companion to Wine]

Wine Talk Tuesday: Wise Wine Words of Dean Martin

 

“You haven’t drunk too much wine if you can still lie on the floor without holding on.”

Dean Martin

Hey, Brother, Pour the Wine

Dean Martin - Hey, Brother, Pour the Wine

I’m guessing some of you may be able to relate to this one if you had the kind of New Year’s Eve celebration that I had.  (Not that I encourage such behavior…).

Coincidentally, my Dad performed a fantastic version of Dean Martin’s That’s Amore at karaoke over the New Year’s weekend!  It must be a Dean Martin inspired kinda week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS: I had a freshman blogging mistake earlier (clicked “publish” instead of “preview”!), which may have caused some duplication of notifications.  Sorry for any confusion!

Divine Wine Sunday: The Franc

First of all, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  Hope those wine headaches are minimal on this fine first day of the 2012… I’m excited that my first Divine Wine Sunday post is on the January 1st!

Ok, on to business…

So – as a Wino, I do have a general idea of what kinds of wine I like to drink – it is pretty rare that I am unsatisfied with a glass or bottle that I end up with at a restaurant or wine bar… perhaps I’m lucky in my selecting of wines, or perhaps my palate isn’t developed enough to know when what I’m drinking is bad, or perhaps I just stick to what I know I like.  Usually, the only glasses I choose not to finish (or even give back) are those in a slow hotel bar that opts to serve its patrons a glass of wine out of a bottle that was opened two days prior.

Anyway, one thing that is for certain is that if there is a Cabernet Franc on the menu, that is typically my first choice.  This isn’t necessarily because I have loved every Cab Franc I’ve ever had.  But (a) they typically have characteristics that I enjoy in a big wine – dry and earthy with a smooth finish, (b) a Cab Franc wine (i.e. – one that isn’t blended with other grapes or at least not blended much with other grapes) isn’t all that common (from what I’ve seen), and (c) you don’t often see Cab Francs available in restaurants / wine menus.

Now, as a resident of the Valley of the Sun within a walkable distance to a lovely little restaurant and wine bar called 5th and Wine, you might guess that I was delighted to find a Cab Franc on their menu the first time I wined there. And not only was it fun to try, I also really enjoyed it!  And since then, I have really enjoyed it over and over and over again.  (Except during that brief period that they decided to not carry it until enough of us repeat customers cried to our servers.) So here it is…

Divine Wine of the Week: The Franc, Cosentino Winery, Napa Valley

The Franc

The Franc, Cosentino Winery

Price range: $20-30 per bottle at a wine store (I’ve seen it available for sale at Terroir Wine Pub), $10 per glass (at 5th and Wine), $20 per bottle from the Winery

Wino Assessment…

Besides the fact that it has accompanied me many-a-night at 5th and Wine, I enjoy The Franc because it is very dry (meaning, my tongue gets a little chalky when drinking it), but has a smooth finish (meaning, my throat doesn’t feel chalky after a sip).  It completely fills your mouth with flavor with a fine balance between plumminess and earthiness. (Yes, “plumminess” is a word.  Even if there is a red squiggly line telling you otherwise.)  And although it is very dry, that smooth finish allows me to feel like I could drink it all night.  So there’s my Wino assessment… let’s see what the books say…

The Grape…

Lots of people say they like “Cabs” – short for “Cabernet” – but that is usually a references to “Cabernet Sauvignon”.  The OTHER Cabernet is Cabernet Franc.  (Kinda like how pork is the OTHER white meat.)

Cab Franc is a French black grape variety and is usually blended with other grapes in wine making – most often, Cabernet Sauvignon.  It happens to be the “parent grape” to Cab Sauvignon, which was only proved in 1997 via DNA typing.  It buds and matures more than a week earlier than the Cab Sauvignon grape and is also less susceptible to poor weather during harvest.  It is one of the 20 most planted grapes for cultivation in wine. In fact, in parts of the Bordeaux region of France, Cab Franc makes up about 10% of a typical vineyard; because it is more “weather proof” than Cab Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, it is a safer bet for wine makers each year.  (Interesting, right?!… now I like Cab Franc even more – it is risk averse, like me!)

The Wine…

As a wine, the books say that Cab Franc is typically light to medium bodied and sometimes includes herbaceous aromas.  Huh… I would have thought Cab Franc would be described as medium to heavy, but I suppose I related the “boldness” of a wine more to its earthy factor than its fruity factor.

The Franc as described by its winemaker is: “The aromas come out immediately with ripe plum, cherry and clove. Plentiful ripe plum, black cherry and clove notes abound on the palate, followed by a welcome shot of tannin on the smooth finish.” [www.cosentinowinery.com]

So my judgement (as noted in “Wino Assessment” above) was not too far off (I did write that before reading anything else…).  Plum, smooth finish… it’s just that light to medium bodied thing threw me off.

Regions…

France: As of 2000, Cab Franc was France’s 6th most planted black grape variety, especially in the south western regions. It is very commonly used in the Bordeaux blends…

Italy: It is also fairly common in the north east regions of Italy, but not nearly as much as Cab Sauvignon.  Italians may refer to Cab Franc as “Cabernet Frank” or “Bordo”.  It is also increasingly being referred to as “Carmenere” in north east Italy.

The U.S. of A.: Cab Franc has been grown in Cali since the 1960s (way old, dude) and is primarily grown in the Napa and Sonoma counties.  The book says that it is becoming “increasingly fashionable” due to its relative scarcity (did you hear that – I’m part of an increasingly fashionable crowd!).  Besides Cali, it is also grown in Washington State, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York.

Other Random Regions: Cab Franc is also being planted in Hungary, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, and – are you ready for this – China. (Random!!)  I have enjoyed wandering around the wineries of Eger in Hungary, and while I didn’t know they used Cab Franc grapes, I love-Love-LOVED their wines.  (Though the handful of Hungarian wine available in U.S. grocery stores are not representative of what I tasted in Hungary… not even those sold at Trader Joe’s, friends.)

So there you have it – the first Divine Wine on Wino to Wine Know.  I feel like I Wine Know a little more than I did… do you??

[Source for all this fine Wine Knowing in this post unless otherwise stated: The Oxford Companion to Wine]

Thoroughly Wino Thursday: Bubbles!

So in just a handful of hours, the world will be getting ready for parties, midnight kisses, counting down from the fine number, 10 (hopefully starting at 11:59:50 on December 31st), and…. you guessed it, drinking some sparkling wine!  Sparkling wine is something I have enjoyed on many celebratory occasions – usually on New Year’s, graduations, weddings, Sunday brunch, etc. And while I enjoy the dry or sweet bubbly delight, I don’t know much about it.  So here in this educational journey about wine, I thought I’d start the New Year with a little info regarding sparkling wine.

So, there is a pretty wide selection of sparkling wines – some are known by the region they are from, and others are just referred to as “sparkling wine”.  But not only do they just have different names, there are generally different qualities about them – all have bubbles, but that’s about where the similarity ends.

Champagne

So we’re all comfortable saying, “I’ll take a glass of champagne” in our best snobby wannabe French accents that really are more like bad Queen Elizabeth-esque accents.  You may have guessed that Champagne is the mother of all sparkling wine.  It represents approximately 8% of the world’s sparkling wine industry and is from the north eastern region of France.  Now here’s what surprised me – common grapes used for making champagne are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Huh… Doesn’t that surprise you!? I guess I just figured it was it’s own fancy grape, but I guess not. So anyway, there’s the skinny on champagne.

Cava

Aaahhh, cava.  I have a special relationship with this Spanish sparkling wine.  After spending a few months in this beautiful country, I spent many a night drinking many a glass of cava.  Cava is made in the “traditional” method of sparkling wine making, which is to say that it is made like champagne (from Champagne).  Most cava – 95% in fact –  is produced in Cataluña, which is the northern region of Spain.  While cava is enormously popular, its production is only about a third of that of champagne.  One of the biggest cava-makers is Freixenet – you may recognize it from the black bottle that you can typically find in your local grocer for somewhere around $8-12.  I have had the pleasure of visiting the Freixenet winery in Cataluña, so you’d think that I would know they are one of the biggest producers of cava.  But hey, they were speaking Spanish, and I was drinking cava samples, so I didn’t pick up on that fun fact.  Here’s a little pic of the winery….

Cork Truck at Freixenet Winery

Super Awesome Cork Truck at Freixenet Winery

Soviet Sparkling Wine

Hold up.  I know what you’re thinking.  Soviets and sparkling wine?  You thought they just drank vodka, right?  Well you’re wrong!  Apparently “Soviet Sparkling Wine” has come to be the PC term for “Soviet Champagne” aka “champanskoe”.  I like that.  Soviet sparkling wine basically came about because some Russians really liked champagne (like the real stuff, from Champagne, France), but it became expensive to import, so those the people of Russia (late 19th century) started making their own bubbly wine.  Soviet sparkling wine primarily uses grapes grown in Crimea and Ukraine.  I can’t really tell from my resource guide here if this is still made… I’m guessing it is, but I’ll have to hit that up on a future blog post.

Asti

Asti is Italian sparkling wine… one many of us may have tried in our earlier sparkling wine years because it is delightfully sweet.  (And we all know college kids love sweet booze.)  It is made from a variety of grapes, including Barbera, Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Malvasia, and Moscata d’Asti.  (Don’t worry – I haven’t heard of most of those either.)  As I started reading about Italian sparkling wine, I realized there is quite a bit to know – too much for this post.  So I’ll leave it at that for Asti, for now.

While there are many other types of bubbly out there, I’ll call it quits on this initial sparkling wine “research” to go enjoy a glass.  May you enjoy a delightful sparkling wine as you end 2011 and turn to 2012.  Here’s to hoping that 2012 is a great year for discovering wine!

(The majority of the data points in this post were from  The Oxford Companion to Wine).

The Beginning

 

Wino to Wine Know began as a suggestion one night by my Dad while enjoying a dinner with some dear family friends.  We were talking blogs and my Dad threw it out there… “You like to drink wine… why don’t you start a wine blog?”

Over the next few weeks, I kept thinking about it.  I loved the idea of it, but certainly felt that ever-present fear in many casual wine drinkers… “but I don’t really know anything about wine”. And hence the idea of the blog began.  While I may not really know anything about wine, I do know that I really enjoy it… and I definitely want to understand it more.  I shared these thoughts with a couple of great friends, one who is a Dreamer and the other an Accountabilibuddy.  And between the two of them, a couple of brainstorming sessions for blog names, a little more discussion regarding the focus of the blog, and voila!  Out popped Wino to Wine Know….

….and then a couple more months went by.  One day I registered this Word Press blog.  Another week or two later I played around with some graphics and the layout of the blog.  And then I just procrastinated for no particular reason… but today is a new day and I’m excited to launch Wino to Wine Know!

I hope you join me on this journey of learning more about wine!